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OCA head would back Sapporo bid for 2024 Games

by Shintaro Kano

Kyodo

Sapporo will have the full backing of Asia should the city formally bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah said in an interview with Kyodo News.

Sapporo, which will host the Asian Winter Games for a third time in February and held the 1972 Winter Olympics, submitted its plans to the Japanese Olympic Committee last month with a proposed budget of ¥430 billion to ¥450 billion.

The International Olympic Committee is expected to announce the bidding procedures for the 2026 Winter Games sometime in the new year. The JOC will then decide whether to formalize Sapporo’s bid.

Sapporo would be the latest East Asian city to put its hand up to host an Olympic Games. Pyeongchang (Winter 2018), Tokyo (Summer 2020) and Beijing (Winter 2022) are all preparing to host the Olympics.

While the JOC is taking a wait-and-see approach given the logjam of games in this corner of the world, Sheikh Ahmad, one of the most influential brokers in international sports, said Sapporo is more than fit to be an Olympic host city again.

“Sapporo is like our winter sport hub,” said Sheikh Ahmad, who is also a member of the FIFA Council. “If they have any interest, we will be very glad to give our advice. Sapporo is capable of hosting the Winter (Olympics).

“The Asian Games is always the door for other international events. Sapporo will now host the Asian Winter Games for a third time and they are capable of bidding for the Winter (Olympics).

“For us, Sapporo is a special city. I believe Sapporo is not only a host city. I think Sapporo is a partner to continue the winter sport movement in Asia.”

The Kuwaiti is confident Sapporo will deliver a successful Asian Winter Games featuring 11 sports from Feb. 19-26, the fourth time the competition will be organized in Japan.

Aomori hosted the Asian Winter Games in 2003, the event has twice been held in Chinese cities and one edition each has been hosted by Gangwon, South Korea, and Astana-Almaty, Kazakhstan.

As of New Year’s Eve, 31 of the OCA’s 45 member nations had submitted entries to the games, including Australia and New Zealand for the first time. The two guests from Oceania will be allowed to compete, but cannot win medals.

Sheikh Ahmad said Sapporo, which hosted the first two Asian Winter Games in 1986 and 1990, has been central to helping develop winter sports on the continent and the Hokkaido Prefecture capital will continue to play a key role.

The OCA’s supporting of a potential Olympic bid by Sapporo would only be natural, he said.

“Sapporo was always there when Asia needed to have the games and for that, we really appreciate what Sapporo is doing for winter Asian sport,” he said.

“I don’t have any doubt, as president of OCA, of success because I have already witnessed many Asian Winter Games in Sapporo. They have the experience, they have the facilities and I hope we will continue this success.

“This year will be more exciting because we will have athletes from Oceania like Australia and New Zealand who will be honorary participants, which will add to the value and experience.”